The city's East Gloucester School Building Committee has settled on two of nine site for a replacement for the East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial elementary schools: Mattos Field, adjacent to Veterans, or along Schoolhouse Road, adjacent to the Gloucester Crossing development and Green Street.
The new school would be built on one of the sites — whittled from nine potential school sites and building options — if voters support and fund the project at a special election tentatively pegged for the spring.
The two sites were chosen for the potential for accommodate 440 students, the merged enrollments of East Gloucester and Veterans and the educational strengths a proposed three-story school could provide.
The committee is due to choose one option to send to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by Oct. 23, according to MSBA guidelines for the project's reimbursement. The city is on track to receive 59.3 percent reimbursement on eligible costs for the project. It is working with data provided by Dore & Whittier Architects, the Newburyport-based firm that designed the 3-year-old West Parish Elementary School.
Cost estimates outlined by Dore & Whittier Architects are at $69.1 million for the Mattos/Veterans site and $64.7 million for the Schoolhouse Road site, which scored higher from an educational standpoint. The added costs for building at the Mattos Field site would be due in part to relocating the field, its lights, scoreboard and other amenities, likely on the current Green Street Field if that does not become a school site.
Funding for the building would come through an anticipated debt exclusion override vote, school and city officials have said. Under a debt exclusion, a community can exceed the state's Proposition 2½ tax cap for the time needed to pay off the debt without raising the actual tax base. A traditional override permanently raises a community's tax base. A timeline mapped out by Dore & Whittier and the building committee calls for a special election on the project between April 24 and June 20 of next year.
Both locations were chosen ahead of options centered on the East Gloucester school property, including proposals to simply replace the building without addressing Veterans, or renovate and build additions to welcome Veterans' 220-student enrollment.
Both of the chosen, city-owned sites have drawn community opposition, notably from neighbors of the Schoolhouse Road property and those who regularly use Mattos Field, home to the Cape Ann Women's Softball League and other programs.
School Committee member Kathleen Clancy, who sits on the building committee, said the group must make some hard choices to move the city's education system forward.
"It's an emotional thing for a lot of people in town, and we appreciate that," she said. The Schoolhouse Road property — across from Gloucester Crossing and the Fuller School site, now the scene of a $70 million redevelopment project that create a 200-unit rental housing complex and a new Cape Ann YMCA — is adjacent to the Green Street playground and a crowded neighborhood at the top of the city's Portuguese Hill section. Mattos Field is dedicated to the memory of Joseph Mattos, a Gloucesterman who died fighting World War I.
"But at the same time," Clancy continued, "we have to find the best way to replace buildings that we need to replace for the good of of our kids."
Clancy said that the chosen Schoolhouse Road site preserves more trees on the property, with the building running in an east-west layout instead of north-south. She said she has not yet decided whether she would support the Schoolhouse Road or Mattos Field sites, adding that she and other committee members are awaiting more data on both locations, including studies in the works to assess traffic impacts.
Nancy Rose, who lives on Green Street, said she does not believe either site represents a good choice for a variety of reasons.
The Mattos site, she says, "would not be fair to all of the people who raised the money for the lights and (other upgrades) to the field." A $270,000 "Light Up Mattos" renovation in 2017 was funded by extensive private donations through a drive headed by softball league leader Patti Amaral and money provided through the city's Community Preservation Act.
Rose said Monday she does not believe her neighborhood can handle being home to a new 440-student school on Schoolhouse Road.
"I just feel this neighborhood can't take anymore," she said. "We know there's a lot more to come (through the Fuller School project). And this would be adding a school to all of that? I just don't think it would be good for the safety of the kids.
"The traffic off the rotary (Blackburn Circle) and the (Route 128) Extension is bad enough up here now," she said. "Can you imagine when you add on all of the school buses, and the parents driving over to pick up their kids? I worry all of that would be a big accident waiting to happen."
School Committee member Melissa Teixeira Prince reiterated her concerns Monday regarding both sites. She indicated last week she would prefer a merged option for the East Gloucester school site, given that it sits in a neighborhood used to a school and is not developed like the Schoolhouse Road site. She said the Schoolhouse Road site, in particular, continues to draw opposition emails from neighborhood residents.
"I think it's clear there's no one solution that's going to satisfy the concerns of all of the neighborhoods, not one that's going to make everybody happy," she said. "There's going to have to be some give and take.
"But we have to come together to support our kids," she said. "I think the consequence of not having a new school project go forward outweighs everything else as this point. It has to."